This Week In Washington
On Wednesday, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing entitled Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education. At the hearing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was questioned on a wide array of topics including student loan servicers, Next-Gen servicing, and higher ed accountability. Regarding the Department of Education’s (ED) response to the Inspector General’s (IG) report criticizing it for its oversight of student loan servicers, DeVos claimed the ED was addressing the issues, but when pressed, she could not provide specific steps ED had taken to implement the IG’s recommendations. DeVos was also asked about not processing claims under the Borrower Defense to Repayment regulations, and she confirmed ED had stopped processing them as of late 2018. You can watch a replay of the hearing here.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate education committee held a hearing on “Strengthening Accountability to Protect Students and Taxpayers.” At the hearing, members questioned what Congress could do in a reauthorized Higher Education Act (HEA) to strengthen accountability of colleges. Themes that emerged included: the use of repayment rates, differentiated accountability for different types of institutions, stricter oversight of for-profit schools, and the inclusion of historically unrepresented students in accountability systems. At the close of the hearing, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) cautioned that he is wary of bright line rules from Washington because they “usually produce unintended consequences.” You can watch a replay of the hearing here.
The ranking member of the House education committee, Virginia Foxx (R-NC-5), gave an exclusive interview to POLTICO Pro (subscription required) covering a wide range of HEA topics. In the interview, she called the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program “a mess” and “one of [Democrats’] socialist planks.” Recall, her HEA reauthorization bill, the PROSPER Act, never made it to the floor because many in her own party rejected eliminating PSLF. In the interview, she now claims that “[she] did not think that bill would be signed by the president.” She also pushed back on overturning a ban on student level data that she authored in the last HEA reauthorization. However, there is strong and growing bipartisan and bicameral support for overriding her objections and including better data collection in the next HEA. She says she is “pretty hopeful” that both chambers’ education committees can produce and pass an HEA reauthorization bill this year.
Democratic senators sent a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) seeking information about the agency’s oversight of the student loan industry and the “activity of student loan companies and servicers involved in the administration of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.” The senators are concerned that since December 2017, when there was a leadership change, the agency has “abandoned its supervision and enforcement activities related to federal student loan servicers.” The letter directs the CFPB to answer a series of questions by April 23, 2019.
News You Can Use
EdSurge reports on the growing demand for graduate education and how prestigious universities are embracing online education.
The Student Borrower Protection Center says we need “more cops on the beat” to protect student loan borrowers due to the federal government pulling back from holding predatory schools accountable.
Urban Institute argues that the length of the repayment period, and thus the amount repaid, for federal student loan borrowers should depend on the amount borrowed.
The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association released its annual State Higher Education Finance report, which found that in the last fiscal year state financial aid saw the largest increase since the Great Recession. However, recovery overall has been uneven—only nine states have returned to pre-recession funding levels in terms of state appropriations per student.
The following bill(s) have been recently introduced for consideration by the 116th Congress (2019-2020):
H.R. 2129 – Empowering Students through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act [Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY-2) / Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1)] would require annual counseling for all recipients of federal student aid, expand exit counseling requirements and direct ED to maintain a consumer-tested online counseling tool.
H.R. 2180 – Domenic and Ed’s Law [Rep. James Langevin (D-RI-2) / Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-1)] would provide loan forgiveness for families who borrowed Parent PLUS loans if the student for whom they borrowed becomes disabled.
S.994 – America’s Call to Improve Opportunities Now (ACTION) for National Service Act [Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) et al.] would expand opportunities for national service and also provide a higher education benefit for serving individuals.
S.1203 – What You Can Do for Your Country Act [Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) et al.] would reform the PSLF program in a variety of ways, including: the expansion of forgiveness to all federal student loan types and loan repayment plans, allowing borrowers to receive 50 percent forgiveness after five years, and simplifying the process to file employment certification forms and applications for forgiveness. Read AccessLex Institute’s letter of support here.